From Liberal Arts to Owning a Boutique Fitness Studio
I played sports competitively throughout my youth and during my Hamilton years, but it wasn’t until I was earning my M.Ed. in sports administration at Temple University, that I truly found a love for fitness. While working full time as the director of marketing for an athletic conference and later for lululemon athletica, I taught fitness classes at various studios and gyms. After having my first child, I decided to explore career options that would limit my travel and provide more flexibility. During the mid 2000s, I found boutique fitness and those studios were gaining headway and competing with many bigger box gyms. I seriously considered opening a boutique studio franchise, but ultimately decided to take a leap and go out on my own, opening an independent studio. I opened my first barre studio in the Philadelphia suburbs in 2011 when my first child was just over a year old, and my second studio in Philadelphia just six months later.
There is a great sense of pride and excitement that comes with owning your own business. You can create your own vision, design and execute your ideas, and dive head first into your dream.
Is it flexible owning your own business? Yes, it definitely can be flexible. Do I work more hours than when I worked for other companies? Without a doubt, 100%. In the beginning stages of operating, I was not only the owner and manager of my studio, but also the person who created all of the content as well as hired and trained my entire staff. I also did the finances, marketing, administrative duties, event organization, and taught over 12 classes a week. For many people fitness happens before or after “regular” work hours, meaning that my studio was never a 9-5 job. I taught weekly 6 a.m. classes for almost 10 years and those 6 a.m. classes that I didn’t teach, I was still sleeping with my phone next to me so I was available if there was trouble with the music, or if the instructor forgot their key. When there was a leak in the bathroom on Thanksgiving morning, it was me who was there teaching the classes and fixing the leak. I never took a true maternity leave; I was back teaching classes two weeks after having my second and third child and was writing emails from the hospital room. And yes, emergencies at the studio always seemed to happen on holidays and birthdays!
The only reason I survived raising a family while owning a thriving business was by learning the art of delegation and the ability to carve out space for staff to grow and thrive. I was fortunate to hire an amazing group of women I respected and who respected me in return. Most of my employees were with me from day one, and those that I hired along the way, stayed. This studio was my second family. Did I work a lot? Absolutely. Did I love it? I loved it so much it was the hardest decision in my life to walk away from it.
About six months before the pandemic hit last year, I started to have this itch to pivot and move in a different direction. I was ready. I had sold one of my Philadelphia studios a few years prior and was beginning to think of moving on from my suburban flagship studio as well. This desire to shift gears was two fold. I wanted to stay in fitness, but I really didn’t want to be the “face” of my business anymore. I love owning a business, I love training, I love teaching, I even in a strange way, thrive from the stress of it all. Ultimately, I wanted to hire the teacher whose class everyone wanted to take. I didn’t want to be that head teacher anymore. A lot of sleepless nights later, I made the decision to move on from my studio, allow my lease to run out, and pursue opening a bigger location in Philadelphia with a brand I had admired for years. I would teach less, hire amazing people, and hire someone to be “the person” to call when there was a leak in the bathroom, or when someone was locked out. I wanted a new challenge.
I was days away from signing a lease in Center City Philadelphia, when the world shut down. I consider myself extremely lucky that the timing worked in my favor. A few weeks prior to the shutdown, I had moved on from my business that I had loved for almost a decade and I had narrowly avoided the rent responsibility of my new studio endeavor. After a few weeks, and many client emails later, I launched an online fitness platform. Initially I thought I would record one or two videos and make a few clients happy, all while helping me stay fresh and busy. Now almost a year later, the platform has a dedicated and growing monthly client subscription, and over 75 recorded videos. Even though I’m still the “face” of this digital platform, having this time at home has made me appreciate what my studio provided for people for so many years. I’m more excited than ever to open a new studio in Philadelphia in late 2021.
For those dreaming of owning your own business someday, and to those who maybe never thought about it before the opportunity presents itself (like myself), my advice to you is it takes time to hire great people and invest in those very same people who will grow within your company. Provide honest and constructive feedback to your staff and always be open to feedback in return. Lastly, stay fresh and be willing to evolve, pivot, and change with your business. No one could have predicted how impactful digital fitness has become over the past year, and those businesses that adjusted and adapted quickly are the businesses that continue to survive and thrive during this pandemic. Even as our country opens back up and brick and mortar studios gain headway again, digital fitness is here to stay. The companies that successfully combine the two disciplines together will be the ones who are the most successful for years to come.